Active Shooter: The Citizen Response

by | CFX Community, Security, Security Connections

If you find yourself at your house of worship when an active shooter event takes place there are a few things you should know and practice. We like to call this a Multi-Option Response.

First, if you can safely do so, get out! Get out of the situation as fast as possible. You will improve your chances of knowing where to run if, in advance, you’re thinking about your way out far before you have to flee (think preplan). Once an event turns hostile, you will have little time to consider your escape route.

If getting out is not a safe option because the active aggressor is too close, then find a place to actively barricade. We aren’t talking about hiding under a desk. That, in fact, may be your worst option. Hiding under a desk makes you an easy target. Hiding under desks may work in films and theaters, but it’s a bad plan in real life as you will be easy to see when a person enters the room. Try your best to actively barricade yourself behind cover. If you can’t find cover, then find a way to conceal yourself.

Think of cover as a barrier that can stop bullets (e.g., the engine block of a car or a brick wall). Concealment, on the other hand, is something that will conceal (i.e., hide) your body, but bullets can still penetrate through (e.g., drywall or a wood door). When you barricade, lock the door if possible. Put large heavy objects such as tables, computers, or desks in front of the door so it cannot easily be opened. Remain quiet and wait there as long as you need to until law enforcement arrives.

Another option you can use is to act with aggression! This option might be the only option available; you may need to act with aggression quickly and decisively. Your best option is to throw any object available to you at the aggressor and try to get away to cover or run out of the building. Use any means you can imagine slowing the shooter down. Active shooters are cowards, and they won’t be expecting a fight.

Key Takeaways

Situational awareness is essential to your survival and may help save your life if you encounter an active aggressor. Consider conducting mental rehearsals of aggressor scenarios. During a mental rehearsal, you imagine yourself in situation and think through (in advance) what it would be like. Imagine using all of your senses. What would you be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling? Imagine the situation and how it would play out in as much detail as possible.

Practice “what if” decision making scenarios. For example, you might think: If I were in my office and I heard a gunshot in another part of the building, then I would (fill in the blank). Rehearse as many “what if” scenarios as you can imagine, building complexity into the scenarios as you gain confidence.

The benefits of mental rehearsals can be two-fold. First, mental rehearsals can reduce surprises. Your critical thinking skills can be impacted by the element of surprise. When you find yourself in a real-world situation that you’ve mentally rehearsed, you’re far less likely to be surprised. Rather, you’ll be expecting it to happen, and you will have already thought through one (or more) decision options.

The second benefit of mental rehearsals is they can help improve prediction skills. In active shooter situations, it’s important to be thinking ahead of the current situation – being mindful of not only what is happening right now, but also thinking about what is going to happen next (e.g., what/who might be waiting for me around the next corner?).

When practicing “if-then” scenarios and performing mental rehearsals, think beyond yourself. Imagine the actions of others who will be present. To take down an active aggressor you may need to lead (direct) others on what to do. 

Don’t assume everyone will know what to do. That would be a mistake. Have a plan! Remember, it’s much easier for the body to get through a tough time when the mind has already experienced and planned for it.

Discussion Topics 

  • Discuss if your emergency action plans and escape routes are up to date at your house of worship.
  • Review and discuss your church’s plan for an active aggressor event. Do you have a safe meeting location? Do you have mental resources ready to deploy if employees don’t want to come back to work or have been affected by the trauma?
  • Discuss with your staff what each of you should (and should not) do during an active aggressor event. 

Drew Moldenhauer is the Owner and Master Instructor of Blue Ethos Specialized Training. He is an international speaker and has spoken at several conferences on various topics. Drew has 16+ years of Law Enforcement Officer experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. He has held titles in his tenure: Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor, and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full- time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is an Adjunct Professor at Hamline University, Concordia St-Paul University, Metropolitan State University, Normandale Community College, and Hennepin Technical College. You can reach Drew at

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